The Secrets We Kept – Lara Prescott

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TWO FEMALE SPIES. A BANNED MASTERPIECE. A BOOK THAT CHANGED HISTORY.

1956. A celebrated Russian author is writing a book, Doctor Zhivago, which could spark dissent in the Soviet Union. The Soviets, afraid of its subversive power, ban it.

But in the rest of the world it’s fast becoming a sensation.

In Washington DC, the CIA is planning to use the book to tip the Cold War in its favour.

Their agents are not the usual spies, however. Two typists – the charming, experienced Sally and the talented novice Irina – are charged with the mission of a lifetime: to smuggle Doctor Zhivago back into Russia by any means necessary.

It will not be easy. There are people prepared to die for this book – and agents willing to kill for it. But they cannot fail – as this book has the power to change history.

The Secrets We Kept is one of those rare books that not only are you hooked from, but, know you’re going to love after reading just the first page. I was instantly transported to the 1950s and completely immersed in both Irina’s and Olga’s stories.

The book is a fictional account of how Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago was smuggled out of the East and into the West before authorities could stop it from being published. And how it was then later smuggled back into Russia to be enjoyed and celebrated by many, many people. However, this was by no means an easy feat and Olga, Boris Pasternak’s mistress, was treated appallingly for her role in helping him. The story is incredible and I had no idea about the history of Doctor Zhivago or the brave people that worked to get the book into the world.

Running alternately with Olga’s chapters are Irina’s, which are set in Washington, DC. These were my favourite chapters in the book. I loved the spy aspect of the story and how Irina was posing as a typist whilst actually undertaking dangerous missions for the CIA. She’s a strong character who is not to be underestimated, which is just like many of the other women in the book, who are at most times looked down on by the male characters. This paragraph summed things up perfectly:

Sometimes they’d refer to us not by name but by hair color or body type: Blondie, Red, Tits. We had our secret names for them, too: Grabber, Coffee Breath, Teeth.

They would call us girls, but we were not. We came to the Agency by way of Radcliffe, Vassar, Smith. We were the first daughters of our families to earn degrees. Some of us spoke Mandarin. Some could fly planes. Some of us could handle a Colt 1873 better than John Wayne. But all we were asked when interviewed was “Can you type?”

And Irina can do much more than just type, as can Sally, who teaches and guides Irina in her missions, which I’ll say no more about to avoid any spoilers!

The Secrets We Kept is a brilliantly told story, about a piece of relatively unknown history. It is tense, enthralling and has brilliant female characters. You’ll not be able to put it down and you will think about the characters long after you finish the book. This is one of my books of the year, for sure!

Thank you to Anne Cater for inviting me on the tour and to Hutchinson for a copy of the book, which is available now!

Follow the rest of the tour, here:

FINAL The Secrets We Kept BT Poster

 

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The Man Who Saw Everything – Deborah Levy

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The man who had nearly run me over had touched my hair, as if he were touching a statue or something without a heartbeat…’

In 1988 Saul Adler (a narcissistic, young historian) is hit by a car on the Abbey Road. He is apparently fine; he gets up and goes to see his art student girlfriend, Jennifer Moreau. They have sex then break up, but not before she has photographed Saul crossing the same Abbey Road.
Saul leaves to study in communist East Berlin, two months before the Wall comes down. There he will encounter – significantly – both his assigned translator and his translator’s sister, who swears she has seen a jaguar prowling the city. He will fall in love and brood upon his difficult, authoritarian father. And he will befriend a hippy, Rainer, who may or may not be a Stasi agent, but will certainly return to haunt him in middle age.

Slipping slyly between time zones and leaving a spiralling trail, Deborah Levy’s electrifying The Man Who Saw Everything examines what we see and what we fail to see, the grave crime of carelessness, the weight of history and our ruinous attempts to shrug it off.

The Man Who Saw Everything is completely different to anything I’ve read before and I’ve found it extremely difficult to sum it up without giving anything away!

The story follows Saul Adler across time and place. We first meet him in London in 1988 as he’s crossing Abbey Road and gets hit by a car. In minimal pain, but otherwise appearing to be okay, Saul is then photographed by his girlfriend, Jennifer Moreau, on the famous crossing. This road and the accident are significant in Saul’s life and become more so when the story moves into 2016.

Throughout 1988 you’re never quite sure what is real and what isn’t. For example, whilst Saul is in 1988 Berlin he knows historical events will happen before they have taken place. Though the reason behind this becomes clearer once you get to 2016. The way the two timelines cross is very clever, but as a result Saul comes across as an extremely unreliable narrator but you learn why as the book goes on. It’s difficult to say more without spoiling the story, but there are plenty of unexpected twists.

My favourite things about the book (apart from the character Walter) are that the descriptions of places, people and feelings throughout are exceptional. They put you right into the story, whether in an allotment in Berlin or under a cherry blossom tree in Cape Cod, you imagine them perfectly. And I think these, along with the unusual plot, are the reasons this book in on the Booker longlist.

The Man Who Saw Everything is a story of love, lust, heartbreak and how actions can change your history, not always in the way you want them to.

Thanks to Corinna Bolino and Emma at Viking Books for sending me a copy of the book, which publishes on the 29th August by Hamish Hamilton.

 

Do Not Feed the Bear -Rachel Elliott

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On her forty-seventh birthday, Sydney Smith stands on a rooftop and prepares to jump…

Sydney is a cartoonist and freerunner. Feet constantly twitching, always teetering on the edge of life, she’s never come to terms with the event that ripped her family apart when she was ten years old. And so, on a birthday that she doesn’t want to celebrate, she returns alone to St Ives to face up to her guilt and grief. It’s a trip that turns out to be life-changing – and not only for herself.

DO NOT FEED THE BEAR is a book about lives not yet lived, about the kindness of others and about how, when our worlds stop, we find a way to keep on moving.

Do Not Feed the Bear is one of the most delightful and uplifting books I’ve read this year. Though it deals with loss, grief and sadness it does so in a way which is relatable and hopeful and at times extremely funny – I found myself laughing out loud on multiple occasions!

The book is beautifully written and moves between the past and the present day, following the main characters Sydney, Howard, Maria and Belle. I enjoyed that the chapters were narrated by the different characters and that we got an honest insight into their lives and also their thoughts and feelings, which really made you care about them. I loved how different the characters were from each other but that they also had so much in common, usually being completely unaware. They were so believable and real and that is down to Rachel Elliott’s beautiful writing. I found myself wanting to go to the Black Hole and have a drink, whilst looking out to sea and watching the waves crash against the shore. I also wanted to visit the bookshop Belle works in, not only because we all love a bookshop, but I found Belle a completely fascinating character.

One of my favourite things about the book was that it’s not always narrated by a human. When @corkyorky mentioned dogs I was quite sceptical, but Stewart’s chapters were some of my favourites. They were so true and perceptive and it was a wonderful way to view people and situations. Maybe humans can learn something from Stewart.

At its core Do Not Feed the Bear is a book about loss, grief and at times regret but it’s also a book about hope and that it’s never too late to start living. It’s also about the impact strangers can have on your life and how they might just change it when you least expect.

Thank you to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part on the tour and to Tinder Press for sending me a copy of the book, which is available now!

 

Ask again, Yes – Mary Beth Keane

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A gripping and compassionate drama of two families linked by chance, love and tragedy

Gillam, upstate New York: a town of ordinary, big-lawned suburban houses. The Gleesons have recently moved there and soon welcome the Stanhopes as their new neighbours.

Lonely Lena Gleeson wants a friend but Anne Stanhope – cold, elegant, unstable – wants to be left alone.

It’s left to their children – Lena’s youngest, Kate, and Anne’s only child, Peter – to find their way to one another. To form a friendship whose resilience and love will be almost broken by the fault line dividing both families, and by the terrible tragedy that will engulf them all.

A tragedy whose true origins only become clear many years later . . .

A story of love and redemption, faith and forgiveness, Ask Again, Yes reveals the way childhood memories change when viewed from the distance of adulthood – villains lose their menace, and those who appeared innocent seem less so.

A story of how, if we’re lucky, the violence lurking beneath everyday life can be vanquished by the power of love.

Ask Again, Yes is a book you will find yourself thinking about for days once you’ve finished reading it and wishing there was more. The story centres on the Gleesons and the Stanhopes and you become fully immersed in their lives as you’re transported to small town America of the 1970s and work your way to ending up in the present day.

I loved the slow burn at the beginning of the book. You know a terrible tragedy happens to the families and the wait almost becomes a character in itself. You’re apprehensive for its arrival, like a unwanted guest, but at the same time you want it to arrive so the wait will be over and you can deal with the consequences, whatever they might be.

One of my favourite things about the book was how the same events were told from multiple perspectives and how these events not only affected the individual characters personally but also how they perceived other characters had been affected. It was very powerful how these interpretations changed the way the characters lived, and behaved, towards one another especially when their perspectives weren’t always the same or perceived in a way a certain character might have originally thought. This aspect of the storytelling was very real and you could imagine people you know interacting in similar ways.

The book is very much character driven and Mary Beth Keane writes with empathy and seamlessly manages to weave some difficult issues together – alcoholism, mental health, illness and heartache – appearing when you least expect them, as they would in real life.

It’s difficult to say anymore without giving anything away but Ask Again, Yes is a story about a lot of things, but mostly it’s a story of loss, grief, mental health and ultimately love.

Thank you to Gaby Young and Sriya Varadharajan for a copy of the book and for inviting me to take part on the tour.

Ask Again, Yes is available to buy now and is published by Michael Joseph.

 

 

 

 

 

The Daughter in Law – Nina Manning

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NO ONE IS GOOD ENOUGH FOR HER SON…

As a single mother, Annie has an especially close relationship with her son, Ben. They have always been together. Just the two of them. So, when Ben brings home his mysterious beautiful new wife, Daisy, immediately Annie doesn’t trust her. Who is this woman who has taken her son away from her? And what is she hiding?

SHE’LL PROTECT HIM WITH HER LIFE…

When Ben disappears, suddenly Annie and Daisy are all the other one has. Alone in Annie’s big, remote house, just the two of them, the tension is rising. And like any protective mother, Annie will stop at nothing to expose her new daughter in law, and the secrets she is hiding…

 

Hello and welcome to my stop on The Daughter in Law blog tour. I’m excited to be able to share an extract from the book, written by Nina Manning, with you.

 

Annie

My favourite room is the spare bedroom at the front of the house. It gets all the light in the morning and looks so inviting. I’ve done it up like a picture I saw in a lifestyle magazine: a checked throw across the end of the bed, floral sheets and hooked back curtains, a little wicker chair in the corner with a few well-read paperbacks stacked on top of it, and a white vase on the bedside table. It really is the most comforting place to be. Of course, no one ever uses it. I like to keep the house looking nice. But it was only ever going to be me and my son.

Getting out of bed was particularly hard this morning. It has been every morning since Ben left. I keep thinking, what is the point? I’ve been feeling that empty hopelessness for several months now. Since Ben deserted me.

For her.

I’d heard all about empty nest syndrome but I never imagined for a moment it would happen to me. I never actually thought he would leave. I thought we would just keep existing together. Forever.

He kept so much of his stuff here initially, that I felt sure he would return – but just last month, he came and took the lot.

It’s so quiet here now. It was quiet anyway, that’s why I took the house. It’s the house I grew up alone in with my father, but fled from as soon as I was able to support myself.

How do you define an unhappy childhood? In those days it was unheard of to make an allegation about your relative. I accepted the violence – it was, after all, part of him and all I had ever known. Throughout my motherless upbringing, the beach house provided a sanctuary for me with plenty of places to hide. I got stealthier as I grew and with my legs pulled up tightly into my chest and my head pressed to my knees, I would squeeze myself into an alcove, the airing cupboard or the shed with the ringing sound of my father’s threats in my ear. Later on, I would sneak out and find my way back to my bedroom past my father’s drunken snores. The next day he wouldn’t remember a thing. Had I not been able to escape down to the shore to skim pebbles or poke about in rock pools, then I would have run away sooner. The sea kept me safe. But as soon as I turned sixteen I took myself hundreds of miles away. I never heard a whisper from my father, who had told me daily I reminded him too much of my brazen excuse of a mother. Then he was dead and the beach house was mine. I left it sitting empty for a while, too scared to return, too busy trying to salvage my own marriage. Then Ben arrived and I knew it was time.

When I returned here all those years later with my son, it was fairly run down and rotting in places I couldn’t get to, much like my father for all those years. The brown weather- worn cladding needed a sand down and varnish and the white framed windows were peeling, but overall the exterior wasn’t so bad. I did the best I could with it and I could overlook most of the natural decay when I scanned the vast horizon and breathed in the fresh sea air.

It’s a remote spot, perched right on the edge of the peninsular before it slopes round into the sea. Standing in the garden or looking out of the window, you would be forgiven for thinking there were no houses for miles, but there is one around along the shore and to the left and then they begin to scatter more frequently as they feed towards the village. People rarely

walk this far down as the shore is a little more rustic with huge pieces of driftwood and great mounds of seaweed washing up daily. Besides, the stretch of beach at the end of the garden and over the low battered wall essentially belongs to me. We are protected a little from the wind by a few surrounding trees, but it does get a little breezy here at times. But when it’s still and the sea looks like a flat piece of mirror you could walk across, that’s when I love it the most. Of course, I love the waves too, especially the ferocious ones that thrust themselves towards the wall. I like to watch those waves and feel my own fury in them.

A house on the seafront, much like a savannah plain, is the perfect spot to see when enemies are approaching. And anyone who tries to come between me and my son, I consider an enemy.

But despite the weather and the waves, I know the house is empty. And although I try to fill my days with mundane daily tasks, I too feel empty. I need to feel fulfilled again. I need my son back. Back where he belongs.

There’s no one downstairs humming a tuneless song whilst they make their breakfast. There are no dirty trainers in the hallway, or piles of washing in the laundry basket. There are no toast crumbs on the kitchen side, or butter streaks in the marmite. The house is so eerily quiet. I have never experienced this. Not since having Ben. I forced all the bad memories away from the time I lived here as a child and made it all about me and Ben. It’s our sanctuary; our hub. Our place away from the world.

Now he’s gone. He hardly texts or rings. She has him wrapped around her little finger. Calling all the shots no doubt.

It was a real shock when Ben told me he had met someone. It was more of a shock when he told me he had gone and gotten himself married. He had been spending a lot of time at her house, that I knew. But I had no idea things had evolved so quickly. And to have done it without telling me, his own mother, first. We used to be so close. I am not coping so well.

I did the right thing, of course. I invited them over for something to eat – mostly because I needed to get a good look at the woman who thinks she has replaced me.

But I know it’s only temporary. I can’t be replaced. My son can’t live without me.

 

If you can’t wait to read more then head over to the Boldwood Books website as the book is now published!

Thank you to Megan Townsend and Boldwood Books for inviting me to take part.

A Modern Family – Helga Flatland

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Hello and welcome to my stop on the A Modern Family blog tour. I’m delighted to be able to share an extract from the book with you!

 

The meat is bloody, the red liquid seeps out from between the fibres of the veal fillet as my fork pierces the steak’s crust. I do my best not to compare it to the blood I awoke to this morning, large streaks of red staining the bedsheets and my underwear and my thighs. My body is trying to make a point, I told Simen as I pulled off the bedsheets while he still lay in the bed. Don’t even bother trying, that’s what it’s saying, I’m here to show you that the more you hope, the more unequivocally I’ll refuse you, tell you no, not a bloody chance of it, I muttered quickly under my breath. I didn’t cry this time, not like last month.

Last month, twenty-nine days ago, we awoke to cloud cover and cold rain in Oslo.

The beams of sunlight that shone through the window and illuminated my body as I showered this morning, the scent of the sea and the slightly spicy fragrance of our natural surroundings here in Italy made this setback slightly easier to deal with. It’s Dad’s birthday, after all, I said to Simen after the blood and my initial reaction to its appearance had washed away down the plughole. Either way, I have to pretend as if nothing’s amiss, I just have to suppress it. Yes, he replied, we just have to make the best of the day ahead; he held me close, a long embrace, and I felt as if I could smell the disappointment where my head rested at the hollow of his neck.

I extricated myself from his embrace and left the room without looking at him, making my way to the kitchen where Hedda was the first to meet my gaze. I tried to avoid eye contact, did my best not to lose my composure because she’s always reminded me of what I don’t have; over the past year I’ve felt myself on the verge of being so furious with Hedda that I don’t know what to do with myself; it comes out of nowhere, sudden and explosive, and I can do nothing but remov myself from the situation. It’s totally unacceptable, I haven’t even mentioned it to Simen, I realise how unfair and petty and embarrassing it is.

Today I chose to make jam for her instead, mostly to have a dig at Liv, exaggerating the sweetness, which Liv and Olaf seem more afraid of than anything else in life. And for once it helped to be close to her, to stroke Hedda’s smooth hair, her soft skin, to see her so thrilled with the jam that was so sweet it was virtually inedible, the jam I’d made just for her.

It also helped to spend five thousand kroner on a handbag, leaving my conscience to busy itself with something else altogether. It helped to leave Simen back at the house with my family, and it helped knowing that he’d spend his morning playing in the pool with Agnar and Hedda – the easy way out, but even so. It helped to stroll around the square in the old town, to buy meat and vegetables with Liv, it helped  to talk about anything else, about dinner, about the fact that Dad was turning seventy. I used to wonder what he’d look like when he was old, back when I was a girl, Liv said. How he’d look when he was seventy, you know, because that would make him ancient. Maybe I didn’t even imagine he’d live that long, she continued. But it turns out he’s just the same as he ever was.

I don’t agree that Dad is the same, he’s become an amplified version of himself – a caricature, in a way, as I attempted to explain to Simen before we left for Italy. Most people are like that, Simen said. They become parodies of themselves towards the end, whether they want to or not. I wonder why that is, I said, if it’s because people are getting ready to kick the bucket and feel the need to leave a lasting impressionof themselves before they disappear, maybe, to make sure those of us left behind remember them more distinctly. Simen laughed, I daren’t imagine what you’ll be like when you hit seventy, he said, you’re already a caricature of yourself. But then, we all become more self-centred with age, so perhaps I won’t even notice, he added.

Simen and I have been together for over a year now, and to this day I remain pathetically relieved whenever I hear him speak about a distant future that includes me, which depicts the two of us together. He’s the only person who’s created a fear that they might walk out on me; in previous relationships, there’s always been a part of me that’s hoped that the person I’ve been with would grow bored of things before I did; I’ve wished for less security in relationships rather than giving in to puppyish reliance and dependence. Now I’d love to feel more secure in my relationship with Simen, secure in the knowledge he’ll stay with me in spite of my body’s efforts to sabotage us, but Simen gives no guarantees.

I was surprised when he accepted the invitation to come to Italy with my family. I’ve never quite been able to tell whether he likes them or not, he always seems nervous and uncomfortable around them, he overcompensates and becomes boastful and envious when we’re with them – particularly when Dad’s around. I’ve tried joking about it, told him there’s no need to compete with my father, if that’s what he’s trying to do, but it’s one of the few things Simen won’t laugh about, and it’s clear he’s not able to do so.

Am I not allowed to touch you in front of your family? he’s asked me in the past. Most of the time he has other plans when I ask him if he wants to come for dinner at Mum and Dad’s, or to join in with any other activities that involve spending time with my family. I found it strange at first, past boyfriends have almost seemed keener than me to spend time with them, but after a while I realised that he probably felt the same way I did: I like Simen’s family, but I prefer my own.

 

Thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part on the blog tour and to Karen Sullivan for sending me a copy of the book.

It’s not long now until you can read the whole book yourself, A Modern Family is published on the 21st June, but for now follow the rest of the blog tour, below.

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The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone – Felicity McLean

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We lost all three girls that summer. Let them slip away like the words of some half-remembered song and when one came back, she wasn’t the one we were trying to recall to begin with.’

Tikka Molloy was eleven and one-sixth years old during the long hot summer of 1992, growing up in an isolated suburb in Australia surrounded by encroaching bushland. That summer, the hottest on record, was when the Van Apfel sisters – Hannah, the beautiful Cordelia and Ruth – mysteriously disappeared during the school’s Showstopper concert, held at the outdoor amphitheatre by the river.  Did they run away? Were they taken?  While the search for the sisters unites the small community, the mystery of their disappearance has never been solved.

Now, years later, Tikka has returned home and is beginning to make sense of that strange moment in time. The summer that shaped her.  The girls that she never forgot.

Brilliantly observed, spiky, sharp, funny and unexpectedly endearing, The Van Apfel Girls are Gone is part mystery, part coming-of-age story – with a dark shimmering unexplained absence at its heart.

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone is told over a duel timeline by the same narrator, Tikka. It starts off in 1992 when Tikka is eleven years old and then alternates with the present day. Tikka has just returned home to a small town in Australia, from Baltimore, USA, to visit her family and the past quickly catches up with her. The disappearance of the Van Apfel girls twenty years earlier visibly still haunts Tikka and being back where it all happened starts to make her question events and her own decisions made at the time.

This is very much a character driven novel, exploring the relationships between families, sisters, friends and members of the community. The characters are vividly written, particularly the Van Apfel sisters, their father and Tikka, and Felicity McLean transports you right into the searing Australian heat. It’s oppressive, like the girls father, Mr Van Apfel. Some of the events concerning Mr Van Apfel are disturbing, especially when told through eleven year old Tikka. She was witnessing things she didn’t understand, things that were wrong, and which scared her and this only adds to the tension that is building. It is uncomfortable; you know the girls disappear at the Showstopper concert and the story slowly makes its way to this point.

There is a lot left unsaid in this book, but that doesn’t mean it’s not open for interpretation. I imagine this will be frustrating for some readers, but I also think it is a theme that has run throughout, especially for Tikka. Although things don’t get tied up in the traditional sense, there is significance in the way the story ends.

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone is a taut, unsettling thriller set against a searing Australian summer. You will think about it after you turn the last page.

Thank you to Anne Cater for inviting me on the blog tour and to Point Blank for a copy of the book.

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone is published on the 6th June 2019 by Point Blank.

Follow the rest of the blog tour here:

Van Apfel Girls are Gone Blog tour Poster